Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child: Oh, the Places You’ll Trip

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It’s been a steady creep enacted by Philadelphia’s Ruby the Hatchet into the greater and expanding consciousness of American heavy psychedelia. The organ-laced five-piece from the City of Brotherly Love debuted on respected purveyors Tee Pee Records in 2015 with Valley of the Snake (review here), their second album overall behind 2012’s subsequently reissued Ouroboros and 2014’s Eliminator EP, and Planetary Space Child is their third and most cosmically expansive outing yet.

There have been and continue to be consistent themes in the band’s work — the Adam Burke cover art, the prominent vocals of frontwoman Jillian Taylor, the forward rhythmic push from bassist Lake Muir (who’s come aboard since the last record) and drummer Owen Stewart, a feel somewhere between garage heavy, doom rock and classically stoned ’70s-ism — but the seven-track/41-minute Planetary Space Child from nearly every angle simply brings their approach to a new level, whether that’s the additional percussion and Sean Hur‘s keyboard flourish amid the consuming swirl of effect from guitarist Johnny “Scarps” Scarperia in “Pagan Ritual” or the immediate landmark that the hook in the opening title-track gives the band to build from, so that the later drift of centerpiece “The Fool” after the subtly metallized “Killer” and “Pagan Ritual” has a decided outward direction in which it’s moving. One might say the same of the album as a whole in relation to the band’s preceding material. It’s going farther out.

And make no mistake, it gets there, but with Taylor‘s carefully layered vocals, a depth of mix conjured by Hur and engineers Joe Boldizar of Retro City Studios and Zach Goldstein of Kawari Sound, that easily accommodates the spaciousness required by the blend of keys, guitar, bass and drums as well as the atmosphere of Taylor‘s vocals and those backing her in, say, the seven-minute roller “Symphony of the Night” (is that a Castlevania reference?), there’s never any sense of confusion in terms of Ruby the Hatchet‘s intent. Their command of the song is never relinquished, so that as the just-mentioned “Symphony of the Night” moves toward its speedier midsection via an uptick in organ drama, the listener has no trouble following the band through the shift in ambience. Of course, the righteousness of the gallop that ensues and the clear demonstration of dynamic on the part of the group as a whole don’t hurt either in that regard, but that’s nothing new for Ruby the Hatchet, and whether they’re actively engaging galaxial grandiosity on “Planetary Space Child” — just in case you were looking for the perfect phrase to spraypaint on the back of your van to go with that mountaintop wizard you just put on the side of it — or digging into the more proto-metallic “Killer,” which feels perhaps a bit born of their time on the road alongside Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and is just one of two songs under five minutes long in a mirror with the penultimate “Gemini,” the vibe they set in these early moments holds firm throughout.

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The album was reportedly recorded in an 1800s mansion out in the woods of Pennsylvania, and if nothing else, it’s easy to imagine the place had high ceilings, because while Stewart‘s snare has a decided grounding effect, his perfectly-balanced cymbals ring out like splashes complementing the turns in “Killer” and the momentum that boogie-fueled riff of “Pagan Ritual” thrusts toward, and there is a strong feeling of “room” throughout the proceedings as a whole. That can certainly happen in a cramped studio space as well, of course — age of technological wonders and all that — but if Ruby the Hatchet‘s choice of locale was motivated in part by setting a mood for themselves in addition to the audience, it would seem they made the right choice in that regard and the dividends can be heard as much in the unmitigated hookery of “Killer” and “Planetary Space Child” as well as in the Rocka Rolla chug of “Gemini” or the languid motion of “The Fool.”

Anyone who heard Valley of the Snake and paid even a modicum of attention to what the band was doing therein can tell you they want nothing for songcraft, but this too seems to have been refined in the last two years, and while of course “Symphony of the Night” and grand-finale closer “Lightning Comes Again” — which itself is just shy of the seven-minute line that “Symphony of the Night” so fluidly crosses — have their meandering aspects, there’s zero loss of purpose throughout. To wit, the rhythmic change at 2:14 into “Lightning Comes Again” is a masterpiece moment of transition, and the band utterly nails it, bringing the track to its next stage with unmistakable precision without sounding forced or losing the flow that has brought them so gracefully not only through the quiet opening of that song itself, but of the six prior. The band is signaling at that point that they’ve hit the summary moment for Planetary Space Child as a whole, and so they have. Before the next five-ish minutes are up, they’ll call back to the 8-track-ready circa-’73 idolatry of “Gemini” and “Killer,” the staging sensibility of the title-cut, the rhythmic churn of “Pagan Ritual” and even a bit of the horror-rock flourish of “Symphony of the Night,” with Scarperia finding room for a highlight guitar solo and Stewart marking the ending with a flurry of tom fills behind the assurance from Taylor that, “Lightning will come again.”

She makes it a believable proposition, to say the least, though if lightning is what the band caught in a bottle their last time out on Valley of the Snake, then it would seem it’s already returned. They bring the record to an end with no less a sure hand than they began it, and only bring emphasis to the point that especially if they hit the road again as hard for their third LP as they did for their second, it’s time to start considering Ruby the Hatchet among the top purveyors of heavy psych at least along the East Coast. Where so many other acts seem to get mired in the intensity of the region, the cold weather, the traffic, whatever it is, Ruby the Hatchet have plotted and made their escape from the Northeastern crush, and one can only hope that others will follow the path they’re blazing in these tracks. For its standout choruses, the unrestrained feeling of openness that unites them, the flow and richness of its presentation as a whole, front-to-back listening experience, Planetary Space Child is an absolute must and easily one of 2017’s finest offerings.

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Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child (2017)

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One Response to “Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child: Oh, the Places You’ll Trip”

  1. william miller says:

    Great read my brother and an excellent listen as well!

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